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What is Wilderness Addiction Treatment?

wilderness drug treatment in connecticut

Wilderness addiction treatment is a type of therapy program designed for teenagers struggling with substance use disorders. Wilderness therapy, also called adventure therapy, can also be used to help teens battling other mental health disorders, like depression or anxiety. 

Wilderness treatment involves experiential or hands-on therapy methods, meaning teens are actively engaged in their treatment. Specifically, wilderness therapy involves an array of outdoor activities, team games, excursions and expeditions, and other outside, out-of-the-box experiences to help teenagers overcome issues with substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral disorders. The setting of wilderness treatment programs can vary, but always take place in natural environments, such as the mountains, forest, or beach. 

During wilderness therapy, teenagers have the unique opportunity to actively engage in their treatment. Teenagers are often hesitant to enter professional treatment when struggling with issues like substance use. An exciting wilderness therapy program allows them to find enjoyment during the recovery process. It also enables teens to form healthy friendships with other teens who are walking in similar shoes. All the while, teens are separated from their previous negative, chaotic, and potentially drug-using environments, and placed in the simple, therapeutic surroundings of nature.

Through wilderness addiction treatment activities, teenagers are able to have fun and feel challenged to complete tasks. For example, they might need to work together to complete an obstacle course or scavenger hunt. They may need to think critically during a night of camping, or figure out how to reach a predetermined destination as a team. They may learn skills for survival, problem-solving, and teamwork, all while practicing sobriety. Wilderness addiction treatment is not designed to be dangerous in any way, but rather, to challenge teens and enable them to find meaning, purpose, independence, and healthy ways of living. Wilderness addiction treatment helps teens replace old, drug-using habits with healthy activities and relationships.

Many young people battling substance addiction feel alone, isolated, and hopeless before seeking help. They may not know how to trust others or how to establish relationships without the crutch of drugs and alcohol. A wilderness treatment program enables them to work past these attitudes and work with others to reach a common goal. The outdoor environment also has many healing aspects, which can prove beneficial for teens in addiction recovery. For example, research shows that being outdoors improves mood, self-esteem, and mindfulness.

Wilderness addiction and mental health therapy is provided by licensed professionals who oversee all activities during the program. Wilderness therapy is not simply an adventure camp for troubled teens. Rather, it is a carefully curated program that offers exciting experiences and professional mental health counseling, all-in-one place. Teens in wilderness treatment programs will not only participate in outdoor activities, but also:

  • Take part in intensive counseling sessions (individualized, group, or therapy), 
  • Learn basic life skills and coping mechanisms, 
  • Address problematic attitudes, thought patterns, and behaviors, as well as 
  • Develop a plan for aftercare and long-term recovery.

The goal of wilderness addiction treatment is to engage teens in healthy, restorative exercises that are also therapeutic, and further begin their recovery journey. 

What to Know About Wilderness Treatment Programs:

Wilderness addiction treatment and therapy is a unique and incredible way for teens to begin the recovery journey. However, it may not be right for everyone. For teens experiencing withdrawal symptoms from drugs or alcohol, a detoxification program is recommended. For those struggling with more complicated co-occurring disorders, a residential treatment program is recommended. Those battling suicidal thoughts should also consider a residential, dual diagnosis treatment program

For those who pursue wilderness therapy, it’s also important to know that this is just one step in the long-term recovery process. Recovery from substance use and addiction is a long-term commitment. Many consider it a marathon, not a sprint, due to the level of time and work involved. However, with the right investment in treatment, substance addiction is very treatable.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends at least 90 days of treatment for individuals with a substance use disorder. However, longer bouts of treatment can result in even better treatment outcomes for teens and young adults.

Typically, wilderness addiction treatment programs are offered in intervals of several weeks at a time. Some wilderness therapy programs consist of weekend expeditions. Therefore, they are a short-term treatment option that should be followed by extended care.

For teens battling substance use and/or mental health disorders, an extended or continuing care program is a natural next step. Extended care programs allow adolescents to continue developing and practicing the skills needed to maintain a successful recovery. Extended care also allows teens to continue receiving counseling and support for mental health issues, drug and alcohol cravings, unhealthy thought patterns, and even academic struggles. You can learn about Turnbridge’s extended care program for teens here.

Overall, wilderness addiction treatment is a great option for teenagers who could benefit from an engaging, active, and thought-provoking environment that pulls them out of their current, mainstream life. Wilderness therapy requires stepping outside one’s comfort zones and learning the steps to live a healthy, productive life without drugs or alcohol. This, in turn, ignites responsibility, self-confidence, awareness, critical thinking, and better decision-making in teenagers coping with a substance use disorder. It also carves the pathway for a successful recovery journey in continued treatment settings.

Turnbridge is a recognized substance abuse and mental health treatment center for teenagers and young adults. You can learn about our programs by visiting us online here, or calling 877-581-1793.